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Program shines at musical theater fest
Riverwatch Middle takes home awards
Award WEB
Riverwatch Middle eighth-grader Alexandra Johnson, center, earned the Freddie G Hardest Working Female Award. Actors Briga Heelen and Skylar Astin, right, stand with her. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

Alexandra Johnson said she never even heard her name being called.

“People were just shoving me to the stairs,” said the Riverwatch Middle School eighth-grader. “I was just really shocked because out of 3,600 people, they chose me and I just couldn’t believe it.”

Johnson was selected for the Freddie G Hardest Working Female Award at the recent 2013 Junior Theater Festival, a national musical theater competition.

Johnson won for her work directing, choreographing and playing the role of Ursula in the school’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid JR.”

In addition to Johnson, Milan Patel won for outstanding male performance for his role as Sebastian. The students also claimed the outstanding production and outstanding ensemble work awards.  

“I’m just so proud of the kids, all of them,” said their teacher, Miriam Reynolds. “These kids are so strong. They work so well together.

“The second award that we got that they were totally surprised about was the outstanding ensemble work award, and that’s the reason why — because they work so well together.”

While the festival began in 2003, this was the first time Riverwatch participated in the event. It typically puts on its play in the spring.

“We’ve never had a chance to get anything together to present for it in the fall, so I moved the play to the fall specifically so we could do this,” she said. “I will never miss this event again. The level of professionalism, every judge, every workshop we went to … the kids learned so much.”

In addition to performing during the festival, students also got to hear from industry experts, including actors Skylar Astin and Briga Heelen and Alan Menken, who composed “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and other Disney classics.

According to Reynolds, what helped set Riverwatch apart is that it was one of the few public schools in the competition. About 90 percent of participants were private programs and performing arts academies.

Reynolds said she took about 35 of the original 85 students who performed in the original production at the school. They were there among nearly 4,000 participants.

“We have a very large and very active middle school drama program and this is the first time we have gone to this,” Reynolds said. “The whole thing was like the Tony [Awards] for middle school.

“It encourages kids to grow because it gives them that love for it and the excitement for it in middle school. That way they can carry it into high school.”